- Real Estate
- Paris Flash
The Lamar County Chamber of Commerce has a new chairman.
“Ladies and gentlemen, my time’s up. Thank you for yours,” outgoing chairman Robert High said at Tuesday’s annual Chamber of Commerce banquet. He passed his gavel to Erik Roddy, the new chairman, and added: “It’s all yours.”
The chamber had a good year, High said, including ending with higher fund balances for the civic center and Visitors and Convention Council, repaving and restriping the center’s parking lot and a new software system to better track members. He said the city needs public restrooms downtown for people who attend events like this weekend’s Pumpkin Festival.
“Give the world the best you have, and you will get kicked in the teeth. Give anyway,” High said. “In the final analysis, it’s between you and God. It’s not between you and others.”
This year marked the 109th annual banquet. The theme was “Leading the Way,” which Roddy said the chamber will continue to do.
“In 2014, the Lamar County Chamber of Commerce will be leading the way to help business prosper,” he said. “It’s our hope that all the businesses and plants will continue to prosper.”
It’s vital that large businesses continue to create primary jobs, he said. Those in turn help small businesses, which are an important part of the economy.
“You have my commitment to focus on that like never before,” he said.
Business is a major function of the Chamber of Commerce. Economic development is a function it shares with the Paris Economic Development Corp. Communities need to start rethinking economic development, said Agracel CEO Jack Schultz, one of the banquet’s keynote speakers. Its future will stand on three legs: The more traditional industrial recruitment and support of existing industry, but also nurturing homegrown entrepreneurs.
He showed a picture of the 2005 announcement of a new pope that showed a crowd of people and one digital camera. Another picture of this year’s announcement included a sea of cell phones and tablets.
“It’s happening so quickly,” he said. “Young people have an opportunity to develop businesses so quickly.”
The Millennial Generation, those born between 1982 and 2002, may be the most important in this nation’s history, Schultz said.
“These young people are going to be the most entrepreneurial generation in the history of the United States,” he said.
To help foster that, educator and filmmaker Craig Lindvahl – another keynote speaker – developed an educational program called Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities, or CEO. It is funded by private investors and meets in local businesses rather than a school.
Students are chosen through an application process and receive high school credit. They get to start their own businesses and write a few business plans in a year. They even sit down with bankers and investors to pitch their businesses. Each receives a mentor from the business community. A trade show is held at the end of the year; last year’s classes generated $25,000. Alumni of the program have access to an internship program. Five classes have graduated 110 students from the program, nearly all of which have gone on to college. They have started 105 businesses, about a quarter of which are still in operation.
“This is not the answer for every grade and every subject,” Lindvahl said. “This is primarily for the kids for whom school is not their thing.”
He has taught all grades from kindergarten through 12th, but he enjoyed working with younger children most.
“I particularly love kindergarten kids because they’re excited about everything,” he said. “This curiosity gets get turned off somewhere around second grade. I’ve seen it for years.”
Roddy also said the chamber will continue to encourage people to shop locally and bring people into Paris for business.
He praised the work of Earl Erickson, who had a vision and helped make Trail de Paris a reality.
“I encourage each and every one of you to find one thing you believe in and work to make it happen,” he said.
The chamber’s mission is to promote the economic and social well-being of the community, said Derald Bulls, who served as emcee.
“One of the goals of this year’s banquet is to get people involved,” he said. “It takes all of us working together cohesively to move forward.”
One of the things the chamber does at its banquet is recognize those who have done just that. The Peoples Bank on Lamar Avenue was named the 44th recipient of the Silver Trophy for Civic Beautification. PEDC Director Steve Gilbert presented Huhtamaki with the PEDC’s industrial appreciation award before playing a new marketing video for the economic development corporation.
Ambassador Chairman Rhonda Rogers presented High with the Ambassador of the Year award. The award is based largely on attendance and participation at chamber functions.
“This year, one member clearly stood head and shoulders above the others,” she said. “He helped us so much through the year. Robert High, we want to publicly thank you.”
The Mary Walker Clark Award was presented to Renee Harvey. It was only the fifth time the award had ever been presented. The first went to Paul Swasko in 1991, then Eric Tate in 1993, Bulls in 1996 and Kenneth Webb in 2000.
“This person is all in to make a difference in this community,” Bulls said in introducing her.
Harvey grew emotional as she accepted the award.
“It is an honor to serve this community,” she said. “You can never give back enough.”